Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, February 27, 2019 which is Inconvenience Yourself Day, International Polar Bear Day, No Brainer Day and Pokeman Day.
This Day in Legion History:
- Feb. 27, 2011: The last American veteran of World War I, Frank Buckles of Charles Town, W. Va., dies at the age of 110 and is later buried at Arlington National Cemetery. “I never thought I’d be the last one,” he said in an interview after it was known that he was. Enlisting at age 16, Buckles, a Missouri farm boy, went to Europe aboard the Carpathia, which had rescued survivors of the Titanicsinking in 1912, and served as an Army ambulance driver in France. As a civilian contractor during World War II, he was later taken prisoner by the Japanese. He was a member of The American Legion for nearly 80 years and in his final decade fought for the creation of a World War I national memorial in Washington, D.C. It did not happen in his lifetime.
This Day in History:
- 1922: In Washington, D.C., the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, providing for female suffrage, is unanimously declared constitutional by the eight members of the U.S. Supreme Court. The 19th Amendment, which stated that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex,” was the product of over seven decades of meetings, petitions, and protests by women suffragists and their supporters.
- 1973: On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, some 200 Sioux Native Americans, led by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), occupy Wounded Knee, the site of the infamous 1890 massacre of 300 Sioux by the U.S. Seventh Cavalry. The AIM members, some of them armed, took 11 residents of the historic Oglala Sioux settlement hostage as local authorities and federal agents descended on the reservation.
- On this day in 1864, the first Union inmates begin arriving at Andersonville prison, which was still under construction in southern Georgia. Andersonville became synonymous with death as nearly a quarter of its inmates died in captivity. Henry Wirz, who ran Andersonville, was executed after the war for the brutality and mistreatment committed under his command.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Reboot Camp: Vets groups vow to pressure Congress into following through on hard-won legislation
- Military.com: Bill Would Allow Last WWII Medal of Honor Recipient to Lie in State at Capitol
- Military Times: Military retirees can still be court-martialed, Supreme Court affirms
- Stripes: Takano announces congressional task force to address challenges facing female veterans
- AP: Judge rules against male-only military draft, but no changes imminent
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Reboot Camp: Vets groups vow to pressure Congress into following through on hard-won legislation
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By: Joshua Axelrod 17 hours ago
Veterans groups have earned significant legislative wins for their causes over the last few years.
With the major battles over, they plan to dedicate themselves in 2019 to implementing these hard-fought bills and finding solutions for problems that have arisen with some of their provisions.
These 2019 legislative priorities include taking care of “blue water” veterans, ensuring that Congress implements the VA Mission Act, improving the Department of Veterans Affairs’ ability to accommodate the conditions of the Forever GI Bill, restarting the conversation about the toxic effects of burn pits and other organization-specific goals.
“We saw major legislative victories in omnibus bills that got passed in the last Congress,” said Melissa Bryant, chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “That was a good start … But there’s still a lot that needs to be done with all those pieces.”
Lauren Augustine, Student Veterans of America’s vice president of government affairs, said that with legislation like the Forever GI Bill and VA Mission Act passed, her group has been freed up to tackle smaller but still vital issues.
“I think VA-wide, the community has seen some phenomenal landmark bills passed in the last couple of years,” Augustine said. “We’ve got some detail and less sexy work we can also do to make sure we’re really applying services for veterans. Now we have the time to do that now that the big landmark bills are behind us.”
Bryant said that one of IAVA’s most pressing concerns this year is providing “vigorous oversight” on the Forever GI Bill. The VA seems to be having trouble keeping up with the demands of that particular bill.
“It just showed that there was so much put into the Forever GI Bill that VA infrastructure, frankly, couldn’t handle it,” Bryant said. “They were woefully ill-equipped to be able to handle the compensation and benefits.”
Augustine agreed, saying that ensuring the VA “sticks to the plan” laid out in the Forever GI Bill is one of her organization’s top 2019 priorities.
Then there’s the VA Mission Act, which Congress passed in summer 2018. It promised expanded health care options for veterans, though it did draw the ire of those who believed President Donald Trump was overreaching his authority in an effort to privatize VA health care.
Carlos Fuentes, Veterans of Foreign Wars’ national legislative service director, said the VFW will be monitoring how well that legislation is enacted and enforced.
“We all worked very closely with Congress and the VA to craft the VA Mission Act,” he said. “Congress will have to keep a close eye on implementation. We will do the same.”
Another issue that Fuentes said has the VFW’s attention is the plight of “blue water” Navy veterans. In early 2018, the House passed a bill giving disability benefits to Vietnam veterans exposed to toxic Agent Orange chemicals that has yet to be ratified into law due to roadblocks in the Senate.
“The issue that we continue to hear about the most is ‘blue water’ Navy,” Fuentes said. “And, frankly, it’s just an injustice this issue has not been addressed … Our view is that Congress could put an end to this discussion of whether ‘blue water’ veterans deserve benefits.”
On a similar note, some of these groups also hope to tackle the dangers posed by open-air burn pits, exposure to which has been linked with fatal illnesses like cancer. In January, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal trying to hold private companies accountable for burn pits that allegedly gave more than 800 veterans health problems.
Both Fuentes and Bryant said that the VFW and IAVA were going to work on behalf of veterans suffering from burn-pit-related diseases.
“We recognize it as the Agent Orange of our generation,” Bryant said.
Another common mission many of these organizations will attempt to complete in 2019 is expanding health care for female veterans.
“We want to ensure that the VA, which was designed at first as an all-male care facility, is beginning to modernize its footprint for veterans,” said Matthew Shuman, the American Legion’s national legislative director.
Shuman said the AL’s other 2019 priorities included pursuing initiatives to curb the veteran suicide rate, launching a pilot program for veterans interested in starting small businesses and stopping the deportation of immigrant veterans.
For Augustine and the SVA, she is hoping to modernize how the VA approaches helping student veterans. That will consist of, among other things, improving the VA’s work-study program, upgrading its IT capacities and increasing its ability to aid student veterans affected by natural disasters.
The VFW, according to Fuentes, will do its best to help veterans past their five-year care window get the support they need and push for legislation that increases access to “concurrent receipt,” or the ability of veterans to receive retirement payments and disability compensation at the same time.
Finally, Bryant highlighted other IAVA-specific priorities like mental-health awareness among veterans and putting their legislative clout behind the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, which would force the VA to more thoroughly explore the possible benefits of marijuana for ailing veterans.
Bryant summed up what’s at stake for the large, diverse constituent bases of all these veteran-service organizations.
“We represent an entire statistical generation at this point,” she said. “We represent everyone from retirees to kids who were infants on 9/11. It’s really heavy when you think about it from that context.”
Military.com: Bill Would Allow Last WWII Medal of Honor Recipient to Lie in State at Capitol
26 Feb 2019
Military.com | By Richard Sisk
A bill that would have the last Medal of Honorrecipient from World War II lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda gained bipartisan backing Monday from the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees.
"I can’t think of anybody who would vote against that," Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said of the bill introduced in January by Rep. Carol Miller, R-West Virginia, which would direct a state funeral for a member of the "Greatest Generation" who earned the nation’s highest award for valor.
State funerals, and lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda, are reserved for current and former U.S. presidents and those deemed to have rendered "distinguished service." The late Sen. John McCain was granted the honor last August.
Army Gens. John J. Pershing and Douglas A. MacArthur had state funerals, but there has never been one for an identified enlisted service member. (There have been state funerals for the "Unknown Soldiers" of World War I and World War II.)
All four living recipients of the Medal of Honor from World War II were enlisted. They include former Marine Warrant Officer Hershel "Woody" Williams of West Virginia and three former soldiers: Tech. Sgt. Charles H. Coolidge of Tennessee, Tech. Sgt. Francis S. Currey of New York and Technician 5th Grade Robert D. Maxwell of Colorado.
At an American Legion event Monday, a member of the audience asked Isakson; Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, ranking member of SVAC; Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC); and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, ranking member of HVAC, whether they would support the bill.
Roe said he "absolutely" would back the bill, while Tester said "it would be fitting and proper" to honor the last Medal of Honor recipient of World War II in the nation’s capital.
Takano also said he would back the bill and noted that three of his great-uncles served in the legendary "Go For Broke" 442nd Infantry Regiment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
"I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them," he said.
In introducing the bill in January, Miller said that honoring the last WWII Medal of Honor recipient would show the nation’s gratitude to all "our veterans from the Greatest Generation."
"In this time of political divide, respecting our veterans and honoring our nation’s heroes is something all of my colleagues can come together to support," she said.
A total of 464 Medals of Honor were awarded during World War II, 266 of them posthumously, according to government figures. Only Williams, Coolidge, Currey and Maxwell are still living.
Williams, 95, was awarded the medal for his actions with a flamethrower and demolition charges in taking out enemy pillboxes during the battle of Iwo Jima.
Coolidge, 97, was honored for leading a small unit in France in holding off overwhelming German attacks for four days.
Currey, 93, was credited with taking out four enemy tanks in France with a "bazooka" and anti-tank grenades while rescuing five other U.S. soldiers guarding a bridge.
The oldest of the four, Maxwell, 98, was awarded the medal for falling on a grenade in France to protect other soldiers.
Following Miller’s introduction of the bill, the entire West Virginia congressional delegation sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting a state funeral for the last Medal of Honor recipient from World War II.
"The Greatest Generation represents the very best of West Virginia and America," the letter said. "For this reason, we can think of no greater tribute than to honor the last of our national heroes of this generation with a state funeral."
Last August at the American Legion’s National Convention, a resolution was passed in support of a petition to honor the last MoH recipient from the war with a state funeral "to join together the hearts of millions of Americans in a unifying event honoring the legacy of all World War II veterans."
The petition was begun by Bill McNutt, chairman and co-founder of State Funeral for World War II Veterans. He told Stars & Stripes last year, "The country is so desperate for something that is unifying, not political, yet patriotic. This is all of those things."